I. THE REASONS AND PRESUMPTIONS FOR BELIEVING
THE WHOLE CHURCH IS TO BE RAPTURED
BEFORE THE TRIBULATION
Approximately one year after I was saved, I read many books written by those who believe that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation; as a result, I thought that the whole church would be raptured before the tribulation. However, I did not tell anybody about it. Later, when I read 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 carefully, I felt that it did not quite make sense for the whole church to be raptured before the tribulation. It is true that both passages talk about the rapture, but where in these two passages does it say that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation? What gives us the authority to say that 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 tell us that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation? As I asked myself this question, I was troubled. Since then, I have searched the Bible very carefully. After many years of study, my research shows that those who teach that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation are making two big mistakes. First, the Scriptures they quote do not actually prove that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation. Second, they rely upon too many presumptions which they use as facts. I will first talk about the unreliability of their reasons, and then I will point out their many presumptions.
A. The Unreliability of the Reasons
According to my knowledge, those who believe that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation have seven reasons which they consider as substantial and very reliable. I believe I have not missed any, and even if I have, they would be minor points. The seven reasons they hold are very unconvincing. We will consider them one by one and see how they are unreliable.
1. The First Reason
Romans 5:9 says, "Much more then, having now been justified in His blood, we will be saved through Him from the wrath." First Thessalonians 1:9-10 says, "For they themselves report concerning us what kind of entrance we had toward you and how you turned to God from the idols to serve a living and true God and await His Son from the heavens, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath which is coming."
They say that these passages tell us that we shall be saved from the wrath through Jesus’ blood, and that the Lord will deliver us from the wrath which is coming. What is the coming wrath? Does it not refer to the great tribulation? Therefore, being delivered from the coming wrath is being delivered from the coming tribulation. We must be raptured to be delivered from the coming tribulation; if we are not raptured, we must go through the tribulation. Therefore, they believe that the rapture must take place before the tribulation.
First Thessalonians 5:9-11 says, "For God did not appoint us to wrath but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that whether we watch or sleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore comfort one another, and build up each one the other, even as you also do."
They say that the great tribulation is God’s great wrath. Since God did not appoint us to wrath, we will not go through the tribulation. If we go through the tribulation, this means that we will receive the great wrath. But since God did not appoint us to wrath, we all must be raptured before the tribulation.
Based upon the Scriptures we have quoted, are these reasons sufficient? Is there any evidence that the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 refer to the great tribulation? If this question cannot be answered first, how can they use these three passages as evidence that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation?
Even if we concede that "the wrath" refers to the great tribulation, we still cannot base our reasoning upon these passages and say that the whole church will be raptured before the tribulation. Yes, the great tribulation is a wrath from God. It is true that these three passages say that we will not suffer God’s wrath. But these three passages do not say that we will not suffer Satan’s wrath and will not be afflicted by Satan, because in the great tribulation there will be wrath and afflictions from Satan as well! God punishes the unbelievers, while Satan afflicts the believers. If we search the book of Revelation, we will see that what Christians suffer from is the wrath and affliction from Satan. During the great tribulation, not only is there wrath from God, but there is also wrath and affliction from Satan. Therefore, according to the Bible, the three passages that are quoted cannot be counted as valid reasons.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 19: Notes on Scriptural Messages (3), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)